In 1934, construction work for the spa gardens in Bad Dürrenberg, Germany, uncovered a remarkable double burial from the Mesolithic period, around 7,000-6,800 BC. The burial contained an adult female and an infant, placed in an unusual arrangement that suggested the woman held an important spiritual role. Recent reanalysis of this important archaeological find has revealed new details about these individuals and their relationship.

The female, estimated to be between 30-40 years old, was buried in a seated position. Her grave goods were quite distinct from typical burials of the time. She was interred with stone and bone tools, red ochre, animal bones and shells. Most notably, she possessed antler artifacts and six boar tusks that had been perforated, likely worn as adornments. Due to this unusual funerary assemblage, archaeologists hypothesized the woman was a shaman.

Reexcavation of the site in preparation for a 2024 horticulture exhibition uncovered additional artifacts and human remains that could be associated with the original burial. Among the new finds were more perforated animal teeth, faunal remains, lithic tools, and a substantial amount of human bone fragments. Analysis of the remains, including ancient DNA testing, has provided new insights.

Genetic analysis revealed the female shaman’s ancestry fit within dozens of other hunter-gatherers from Central and Western Europe during the Mesolithic, confirming she was genetically similar to contemporaneous groups in the region. Studying phenotypes in her genome indicated she likely had olive to dark skin, dark and straight hair, and blue eyes – a common combination at the time.

During reexcavation, a partially preserved skeleton of a child was discovered near the original burial. DNA analysis showed this individual to be genetically male. Using new genome scanning methods optimized for fragmented ancient DNA, researchers were surprisingly able to detect biological kinship between the two individuals buried together. Their shared stretches of DNA indicate a genetic relationship equivalent to fourth or fifth-degree relatives, such as a great-great grandparent and grandchild.

This remarkable discovery provides a rare glimpse into the familial relationships and social structure of foraging communities over 9,000 years ago. The child’s burial alongside a powerful shamanic figure, who was likely his great-great grandmother, suggests family ties may have factored into ancient spiritual or burial traditions.

By recovering and analyzing DNA from this important double inhumation, archaeologists have reconstructed an ancestral connection that could not have been determined through archaeological evidence alone. This study enhances our understanding of Mesolithic lifeways and the complex roles that ancestry, kinship, and ritual played in early human societies.


Sources

Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte | Jörg Orschiedt, Wolfgang Haak, Holger Dietl, Andreas Siegl, Harald Meller, The shaman and the Infant: The Mesolithic double burial from Bad Dürrenberg, Germany, Propylaeum (2023). DOI:10.11588/propylaeum.1280.c18002


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